Old at heart Vietnamese youth plan early retirement in nursing homes

By Phan Duong   April 2, 2021 | 06:00 am PT
Old at heart Vietnamese youth plan early retirement in nursing homes
Senior citizens play game with caregiver to train their eyes and hands at a nursing home in Ha Dong District, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.
While many elders are still undecided about transitioning into a nursing home, some young people are already making plans to move in, sooner than later.

"I'm doing fine. Tell everyone that I will be staying here for a while," Dinh Ngoc Han said as she wrapped a call with her husband at home before continuing to chat with her old friends.

Looking at black-haired Han stand out among grey-haired inmates of a nursing home in Hanoi’s Thanh Tri District, one would assume she was just visiting, not another inmate who’s been there for almost two months.

Sixty-year-old Han had fainted after experiencing a brain aneurysm one late evening nearly three months ago. After hospital treatment, her health improved but diabetes related complications remained serious. Despite her strong and healthy outer appearance, she suffers many illnesses and has undergone eight operations.

The owner of a stainless steel shop on Hang Thiec Street in Hoan Kiem District said: "I still felt very weak when I was discharged from hospital. I do not know how my daughter heard about this nursing home and brought me here to check it out."

She said she felt a bit "strange" at first when her daughter proposed the idea because people don't go to a nursing home at her age. This is true. The center takes care of more than 50 people who are over 80 years old.

But Han has seen her health improve after living here. She has her blood pressure checked two times a day, her meals are cooked with home grown ingredients, she sleeps on time and is prescribed medicines and treatment as required by doctors attached to the nursing home.

"My blood sugar level has already dropped from 17 millimoles per liter (mmol/L) to 11,"

Once, when she had a stomach ache late at night, all she had to do was press a bell on the bed's headboard, and a nurse came over and gave her medicated oil and medicine.

Han said that living in the nursing home made her feel she was on a "vacation."

She spends her days exercising, chatting with older friends and going to the garden occasionally to help pick vegetables.

"I will stay here for another one or two months to fully recover. My husband and I will move here once we start our eyesight begins to blur," she said.

Private nursing homes for the infirm and elderly have been developing in Vietnam’s big cities over the last 20 years. Hanoi alone has more than ten establishments. On average, each center takes care of 100-200 people. They have their own doctors, nurses and staff helping to take care of physical and emotional needs of their clients. It costs VND6-20 million ($260-865) per month per patient, depending on the inmate's health and the nursing home's conditions and location.

Nguyen Tuan Ngoc, member of the Vietnam Association of the Elderly and the first person to set up a private nursing home, said: "Most of the elders here have pensions or their descendants have decent incomes. Some elders don't have pension but are still able to live here thanks to collective funds from their children."

In a society where children traditionally take care of parents till their death, some far-reaching changes are happening, especially in big cities.

He is only 37 years old, but Le Huu Phong from the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau is already researching nursing homes to find an ideal one for him to move into when he is old.

He is completely healthy now, and his reason for wanting to locate a nursing home is that he wants to "retire early."

‘Crossing the fence’

Phong, his wife and two children live with their parents and a grandfather who is nearly 90 years old in a small village, but he wants to "cross the fence" and do something different.

Over the past two years, his grandfather's health has declined rapidly, and his 11 children have devised a schedule among themselves to care for him. But Phong sees that taking care of the elderly is highly inconvenient for many family members, affecting their work and personal lives. Sometimes, the grandfather hides his pain from his children since he doesn't want to become a big burden on them.

"Even though 11 children take turns taking care of him, I know it cannot be as good as the care that qualified medical staff can give him. Even such a simple thing as making rice porridge can cause a few problems, with some making it too bland or too salty," he said, adding that he and his wife don't want to follow the tradition of "the old depending on their children."

More a year ago, he quit his job in the banking sector and switched to real estate trading and investing in stocks. Last year, he visited several nursing homes in Vung Tau Town and Ho Chi Minh City, but has not so far been satisfied with any facility.

"My wife and I want to live in a high-class nursing home, which costs about VND30 million ($1,300) a month. I think this is the price level that middle class people in cities are willing to pay," he said, adding he plans to retire when he is just 42.

The official retirement age in Vietnam is 60 years and three months for men and 55 years and four months for women, and there has been official discussions about increasing it even further because of the nation’s aging population.

Many people have suggested to Phong that he invites a few friends and build a nursing home for them to live together. However, he thinks that is not feasible.

"It is fun when you are young and healthy. But who will take of me when I am old and weak? Services must be paid for...," he said.

Ngoc with the Vietnam Association of Elderly said the country was having a faster rate of aging population than other countries, so "in the next decade, Vietnam will face a shortage of nursing homes." This is an opportunity for investors to build facilities to meet a variety of needs, including in the higher-end segment, he added.

Tang Phu Dinh, an architect living in Khanh Hoa Province who is building a high-class nursing home in a rural area, said there were quite a few people who wanted to cooperate with him in his project.

He was confident that "high-end nursing homes will erase the notion of nursing homes as a place only for the elderly."

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